Several hundred people were at Thurmond Lake in Columbia County on Saturday, but the goal wasn't to get some sun.
They were there to watch a bass fishing tournament - the latest in a list of such competitions that county officials have been looking to capitalize on.
"These tournaments and any kind of specialty sports tournaments are a huge economic impact," said Beda Johnson, the executive director of Columbia County's Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
On Saturday, fans watched Lincolnton, Ga.'s Keith Williamson win a $4,235 top prize in the boater division and Ronnie Cutshall, of Piedmont, S.C., take the $2,118 top prize in the co-angler division at the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League Savannah River Division Tournament at Wildwood Park.
The tournament, part of a league with 28 divisions nationwide, boasted 200 boaters and their 200 co-anglers representing states across the Southeast, according to a Bass Fishing League news release.
With professional anglers and their fans coming to the lake for several bass fishing tournaments this year, Columbia County's hospitality industry hopes to reel in some serious profit, Johnson said.
Though the tournaments don't quite have the economic impact of Masters Week, they can still be a big catch for area restaurants and hotels that cater to anglers and fans, Johnson said.
The most notable tournament so far this year was the nationally televised Pride of Augusta Citgo Bassmasters Elite Series Tournament in May, which, Johnson said, brought 250 anglers representing 28 states and two countries. During that four-day weekend, 10,000 spectators entered the gates of Wildwood Park, she said.
Johnson said a conservative estimate of that tournament's economic impact in Columbia County was nearly $180,000 because of hotel room stays, restaurant sales and other miscellaneous purchases.
The total economic impact for the region of Columbia, McDuffie, Lincoln and Richmond counties is more than $210,000, Johnson said.
Wildwood Park also held the Georgia Bass Federation Top Six Tournament, with 533 anglers from around the state. The season continues with two Skeeter Boats tournaments Oct. 13 and 14 and Oct. 20 through Oct. 22 at Thurmond Lake.
Johnson said she is working to get county officials, business owners and the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce together to find ways to further cater to anglers and fans.
"It's very important everybody in the community to act as hospitality representatives when we have visitors like this," Johnson said.
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